Genetics and childhood environment together contribute to risk for suicide attempts

Holly Wilcox, Ph.D.

Holly Wilcox, Ph.D.

Using her Pilot Research Grant and 30 years of data from the national Swedish registry, Dr. Wilcox’s innovative study set out to study the relative impact of genetic and environmental risk factors on suicidal behaviors in adopted children.  She looked at adoptees’ risk for suicidal behavior based on the suicidal behavior in biological parents as well as psychiatric hospitalizations in adoptive mothers. The study showed that parental history of suicidal behaviors and adoptive mother’s psychiatric hospitalizations, in combination, contributed to adoptee’s risk for suicidal behavior. The relative risk of suicide attempts in the study’s adoptees whose biological parents had suicidal behavior, as compared to offspring of parents with psychiatric hospitalizations but no suicidal behaviors, was four times higher only if their adoptive mother had been psychiatrically hospitalized.  There was no difference based solely on family history or adoptive mother’s psychiatric hospitalizations.

Dr. Holly Wilcox is an Assistant Professor in the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences and the Bloomberg School of Public Health Department of Mental Health.   In addition to her Pilot grant, she currently holds a Young Investigator Grant from AFSP that studies early trauma, biological stress response, and suicide attempts among individuals at high risk for depression. Click here to read more about Dr. Wilcox's Pilot Research Grant.

Related Publications

  • Wilcox, H. C., Kuramoto, S., Brent, D., & Runeson, B. (2012). The interaction of parental history of suicidal behavior and exposure to adoptive parents' psychiatric disorders on adoptee suicide attempt hospitalizations. Am J Psychiatry, 169(3), 309-315.